Miami officials address public after firefighters fired for racist act

MIAMI (WSVN) - City of Miami officials held a press conference Friday in response to the firing of six firefighters who left a noose on the desk of a black colleague.

City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said the incident has pushed the fire station into the national spotlight. “I can tell you that this incident has become national news,” he said.

Miami Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban broke his silence after the terminations that were announced on Wednesday. “I am embarrassed, and truly sorry for this insensitive, cruel and offensive act,” he said.

Zahralban described what he saw when he arrived at the station. “Based upon the information received, I felt it necessary to respond personally to the fire station at 2:30 a.m.,” he said. “When I arrived, I was disgusted, and I was appalled by what I had seen – the defacement of multiple family photos, graphic and obscene renderings and a noose draped over one of the photos.”

The fire chief said he was working because of Hurricane Irma in early September when he received the call about the noose and went straight to Fire Station No. 12, located at Northwest 46th Street and 14th Court.

The lieutenant targeted, who asked not to be identified or show his face on camera, is a 17-year veteran of the fire department. “The images were shocking,” he said.

The victim said words cannot begin to explain how hurtful this is. “That to me is regrettably, wasn’t new to me,” he said. “Where the violation was felt the most was once I saw the images that were put on my wife, my daughter and my grand kids. That’s a message that’s completely new to me, and that’s a message that comes from a very dark place in someone.”

After a monthlong investigation, six members of the department were terminated. They are:

  1. Capt. William Bryson
  2. Lt. Alejandro Sese
  3. Kevin Meizoso
  4. Justin Rumbaugh
  5. David Rivera
  6. Harold Santana

Each firefighter was hand-delivered termination letters on Wednesday.

“One captain, lieutenant and four firefighters from our organization were terminated for offenses surrounding egregious and unprofessional conduct,” said Zahralban.

Zahralban said in no way do these firefighters’ actions reflect the Miami Fire Department. “We hold honor, integrity, respect of our fellow firefighters in the highest regard,” said Zahralban. “If you do not practice this philosophy, you will not survive as a Miami firefighter.”

For now, Zahralban said, he is rebuilding the department in hopes that this offensive act doesn’t lose the community’s trust. “The only reason for the existence of the Miami Fire Department is to serve the citizens of Miami,” Zahralban added.

He also reiterated how sorry he is for the firefighters’ conduct. “I’d like to give you my sincerest apologies for this childish, insensitive, and intolerable act,” he said.

The victim said he doesn’t want this situation to be forgotten months later after the outrage dies down. Even though he wants lasting consequences, he said how he felt before the situation doesn’t just go away.

“Once I call you ‘brother,’ I don’t take that back,” he said.

According to the Miami City Manager, if any of the fired employees try to appeal their firing, there is a possibility that an arbitrator can reinstate them.

As for the victim, he said his pain is far from over. “These individuals quietly come back and in many cases receive their jobs back with retroactive pay,” he said. “That would be more damaging to the men and women who are wearing that uniform than anything.”

The Miami chapter of the NAACP is applying the city’s quick response.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Zahralban said, more firings may be to come.

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